Method: Stovetop, WokJump to Recipe
I was first introduced to Ma Yi Shang Shu while visiting Zhangjiajie China with a friend a number of years ago. It was admittedly years later before I realized that Ants Climbing a Tree was the same dish I had enjoyed years before. The spicy ground meat paired perfectly with noodles and was one of my favorite dishes from that trip (much better than the "chicken parts and rice" that we had later that day).
This Ants in a Tree recipe is inspired by that Sichuan stir fry dish and consists of stir-fried vermicelli noodles, ground pork, and spicy doubanjiang paste, along with green onions and asparagus.
What is Ma Yi Shang Shu?
Also known as Ants in a Tree, or Ants Climbing a Tree, Ma Yi Shang Shu is a Chinese ground pork stir fry, popular in Sichuan cuisine. It is a quick and easy stir fry recipe, that is simple but flavorful. Sichuanese Ant's Climbing a Tree represents one of the lesser known, but very popular Sichuan dishes.
Why is Stir Fried Vermicelli Called Ants Climbing a Tree?
The dish is often referred to as ants climbing a tree, because the stir fried ground pork and broad beans are thought to resemble ants on the branches (noodles) of a tree. The addition of green vegetables like asparagus and green onion can also add to the appearance of leaves on the "tree branches".
Making Ants Climbing a Tree at Home
Ants in a tree is a very simple recipe that can be made in under a half an hour. While this is stir-fry recipe is an under 30-minute meal, it does contain a few ingredients that you may not be able to find at a regular grocery store. These less common ingredients, however, are typically available at Asian markets, or easy to order from Amazon.
Ingredients for Ma Yi Shang Shu
To make the Ants climbing a tree recipe you will need a few common ingredients, and a couple that you may need to get from an Asian market or Amazon.
- Noodles: The two most common noodles used to make Ma Yi Shang Shu are vermicelli noodles and glass noodles, or cellaphane noodles. While vermicelli noodles are typically made of rice, glass noodles are made of mung bean powder. Both, however, will make an excellent "Ants Climbing a Tree." Substitutions for the noodles can include other thin rice noodles or, in a real pinch, spaghetti noodles, but most grocery stores should carry rice noodles.
- Cooking Oil: Because the stir fry will be done at a high heat, you want to use an oil with a high smoke point. Leave the olive oil on the shelf and use vegetable oil, avocado oil, or canola oil.
- Garlic: You will need 1 large garlic clove, minced, for this recipe. Of coarse we won't tell if you add a little extra.
- Ginger: You will need about 1 tablespoon of finely minced ginger for this recipe, but can substitute ginger paste, if needed.
- Doubanjiang (Spicy Broad Bean Paste): The key ingredient in making Ma Yi Shang Shu is spicy doubanjiang paste. This is what gives the dish its spice and a lot of its flavor. Doubanjiang, also sometime called douban, or toban-djan, is a fermented bean paste, typically made from broad beans (fava beans), versus the soybeans that are found in many other Asian bean pastes. Pixian Doubanjiang is arguably the most famous version of this Sichuanese fermented bean paste, which undergoes years of fermentation, under sunlight, to develop its complex flavor.
- Soy Sauce: This recipe calls for both dark and light soy sauce. For the dark soy sauce you can use any standard Chinese soy sauce, such as Kikkoman, it just will not have as strong of a flavor.
- Light Soy Sauce: If you can't find light soy sauce you can substitute tamari or Kikkoman soy sauce.
- Shaoxing Cooking Wine: Shaoxing cooking wine is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking, but it is one that you may need to visit an Asian Market to find. Dry sherry would be the best substitute for this recipe or you can use Mirin. Mirin tends to be quite a bit sweeter so you may need to adjust the sugar in the recipe.
- Chicken Broth: Use a high quality chicken broth or stock if possible.
- Sugar: About a teaspoon of sugar is all you typically need to balance out the savory and spicy flavors of the dish. You can adjust the sugar levels from there to your personal preference. If you are using mirin in place of Shaoxing cooking wine, you can halve the sugar in the recipe.
- Green Onion: Providing some of the "leaves" for the Ants Climbing up a Tree recipe, chopped green onions add a little color to your Sichuanese stir fry noodles.
Prep the ingredients
It helps to have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start cooking. Mince the garlic and ginger. Some doubanjiang paste requires some chopping, so finely chop the paste. Note: the fermented paste can stain some cutting boards, especially plastic boards.
Combine the liquid ingredients in a bowl or measuring cup and stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Precook the noodles
Cook the vermicelli or glass noodles according to the package instructions. We typically cook for about 2 minutes less that what the package says, since it will be cooking in the wok as well. Once cooked, drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Cover and set aside.
Cooking the Ants Climbing up a Tree
Heat the oil, in a wok or large pan, over medium high heat. Add in the spicy fermented bean paste, ginger, and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Next, add in the ground or minced pork, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring and breaking it up into small pieces.
Next, add the liquid ingredients and sugar and bring to a boil, then add the cooked vermicelli noodles to the ground pork stir fry and mix to combine. Cook for about 2 minutes.
Next, add the green onion and asparagus and reduce heat to a simmer.
Simmer the Sichuanese stir fried noodles until most of the liquid is absorbed. Your Ma Yi Shang Suu is now ready to eat in under 30 minutes. We told you it was an easy recipe.
What to Serve with Ants Climbing Up a Tree
Ma Yi Shang Shu can be served as a complete meal or with white rice. We like serving the stir-fry noodles with a side of soup dumplings, fried dumplings, or other small bites.
While you are here be sure to check out more of our Asian inspired recipes:
- Japanese Teppanyaki On Your Grill
- Thai Holy Basil Stir Fry: Pad Krapow
- Flat Top Chicken Fried Rice
- Grilled Tiger Cry Beef
- Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup with Smoked Beef
- Taiwanese Night Market Spicy Fried Chicken
- Barbeque Char Siu
- Pulled Pork Lumpia
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Ma Yi Shang Shu: Ants Climbing a Tree
- 6 ounces Vermicelli Noodles or Glass Noodles
- 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
- 12 ounces Ground Pork
- 1 Tablespoon Ginger minced
- 1 Garlic Clove minced
- 2 Tablespoons Spicy Fermented Bean Paste Spicy Doubanjiang
- 1 Cup Chicken Broth
- 1 Tablespoon Dark Soy Sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Light Soy Sauce
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing Cooking Wine
- 1 teaspoon Sugar
- ½ Cup Green Onion diced
- ½ Cup Asparagus Diced. Optional
- Prep your ingredients, as noted above, then heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat.
- Precook the noodles in water per the package instructions then drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Reserve.
- Add the spicy fermented bean paste, garlic, and ginger to the wok and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add in the ground pork and and cook until cooked through, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks.
- Add the liquid ingredients and sugar and bring to a boil, then add in the cooked noodles and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add in the green onion and asparagus and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed.
- Serve the Ants Climbing Up a Tree warm.